Friday, 15 September 2017

A continuing tradition

I had thought of shelving this blog and then returning to it when I had finally left teaching. However I thought it worth recording that this year's new intake of degree students will be the first year to enter what is now Leeds Arts University. Leeds College of Art is no more. The college was awarded taught degree powers, (TDAP) last year and the senior management decided to therefore change the college's name to signify the fact that the college now had university status. My personal feeling is that the brand Leeds College of Art was a strong one; the Royal College of Art has never had a problem with the college of art moniker. However I'm sure the re-naming has more to do with market research than sentiment. Many people felt that the old Jacob Kramer name was a good one and resented the college re-appropriating its old name. From what I remember the college went from Leeds College of Art to Jacob Kramer College in 1968 and then round about 1990, to Leeds College of Art and Design and after a few years the word 'design' was dropped, and we were back to Leeds College of Art. Every change involved people arguing that the old name was the better one. I well remember a long and bitter debate surrounding the dropping of the word design and of course we still continued getting students applying for our design courses after 'design' was dropped from the title.
Numbers continue to go up. This year's new intake will be 130 and I shall be teaching 3 days a week on the new first year. This coming Monday is the beginning of freshers week and I shall be taking a group of students out to take photographs, make videos and collect detritus so that they have something to work from.
The biggest difference for myself will be that on Tuesday and Wednesday I shall be off to Loughborough to attend a drawing conference. Giving conferences papers and writing for journals and or books is now expected as part and parcel of a lecturer's job. The gaining of university status means that we all have to consider research as part of our role. Therefore there is far more pressure to exhibit, and not just get work shown but to have exhibitions reviewed or written about. This change has also affected the academic make-up of the staff profile. Many of the current staff now having PhDs or working towards one.
Going to conferences is therefore a prerequisite of the job. Conferences allow you to network and most importantly seek out opportunities for publishing or other ventures that can be seen as research outputs. One of the reasons I stopped writing this blog was that I have had to do a lot more writing this last couple of years, and not just for the drawing blog, which I have managed to sustain.
I do feel a little sad that the College of Art name is now a thing of the past, and perhaps that is because so many years of my life have been devoted to service in its name. I shall see if the Leeds Arts University name catches on and in the meantime shall continue to work part-time and follow the shifts and changes in fine art pedagogy from a position close to the coal face.
The dropping of learning outcomes and the introduction of expectancies is the latest news in relation to pedagogy, news that for once I welcome. I remember the introduction of learning outcomes in the 1980s, we argued at the time that they were bad for the pedagogic discipline and that they were reductive, simplistic and could not measure the reality of a learning experience that was unpredictable and designed to embrace the unknown. It will now take the profession of art and design education years to get over learning outcomes, they eventually crept in and during the 1990s took over, until every session was being driven by them. In a few years we might be able to get rid of the brief as well, and then we will have gone full circle. I'm not sure I will last that long in post, but you never know. When I started at the college what they looked for in a new member of staff was first of all an interesting personal art practice. Having a teaching qualification was frowned upon and there seemed little need for any qualifications beyond your portfolio. Patrick Oliver always used to tell students that his only qualification was a swimming certificate. The idea that you would trust your eyes still held water 40 years ago, but in the days of post-truth, it would appear that no one trusts anything any more and the higher the qualification needed to enter the profession the more it seems to me people distrust the value of said qualifications. Patrick Oliver had worked alongside Peter Lanyon in his studio in St Ives, he had then worked alongside Harry Thubron in Lancaster, these formative experiences alongside the fact that he had a painting practice, had shaped Oliver as a teacher and he is still one of the best art teachers I have ever come across. I am now preparing for next year's students and I hope to keep carrying the baton for a few years more, but will have to pass it on at some point. This is my 44th year of teaching and my bones are getting creaky. I am still keeping up my weekly blog on drawing and how it relates to being a student on the fine art course at Leeds, follow the blog from here. 


  1. Lovely to read your blog. I was a proud student at "Jacob Kramer" from 1972-1973. I'm feeling a little nostalgic remembering the wild vitality of Patrick Oliver in the studio back then. I wrote of those times in my own blog

  2. Good to read your blog, the music scene was so vital back then.